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Swallowtails’ unique, tail-like hindwing extensions make them some of the world’s most beautiful and interesting butterflies. Unfortunately, many of these insects are also imperiled. The Center is determined to gain protection for five of the rarest foreign swallowtail butterfly species on three continents.

In 1994, a Center member petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list seven swallowtails as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. After a decade had passed with no action taken, the Center sued to force the Service to respond to the petition, and the agency subsequently determined that five of the seven butterflies warrant listing: the Harris’ mimic, Jamaican kite, Fluminense, Hahnel’s Amazonian, and Kaiser-I-Hind swallowtails. But instead of listing these species under the Act, the Service merely made them listing candidates, granting them no protections. In 2006, we filed a lawsuit to force listings for all five candidate butterflies and as a result, in April 2007, the Service issued an updated finding — which continued to insist that listing for the five butterflies should remain “warranted but precluded.” Despite an additional Center lawsuit in 2008, the agency still hasn’t issued final listing decisions for the swallowtails.

Many of these butterflies are prized by collectors and command high prices on the open market. Protecting them under the Endangered Species Act will prohibit importing specimens into the United States and may also help spread awareness about these butterflies’ plight, leading to conservation activities within their home countries.


The Fluminense swallowtail (Parides ascanius) is jeopardized by the drainage and development of its subcoastal swamp habitat near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Harris’ mimic swallowtail (Eurytides lysithous harrisianus) has been eliminated by habitat destruction from all but one known site in southeastern Brazil, which itself is now threatened by development.

The Hahnel’s Amazonian swallowtail (Parides hahneli) is restricted to a few areas of sandy riverbank along tributaries of the Amazon in central Brazil and may be threatened by overcollection.

The Jamaican kite (Eurytides marcellinus) is threatened with extinction due to its limited range, restricted distribution of its food plant, and intense agricultural development near Kingston, Jamaica.

The Kaiser-I-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis imperatrix), a very rare, stunning swallowtail known from Nepal to southern Myanmar, is threatened by overcollection and rapid destruction of the high-elevation forests upon which it depends.

The Oaxacan swallowtail (Papilio esperanza), one of Mexico’s rarest butterflies, is known only from one site in the cloud forest of Oaxaca and is vulnerable to overcollection.

The southern tailed birdwing (Troides [Ornithoptera] meridionalis) is endangered by logging of its natural habitat and the uncontrolled development of plantations in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

Photo courtesy of Animal Pictures Archive